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(Pictured Above: Viet Cong soldiers)

In my freshman year at Loyola University, as an employee of their Theatre Box Office, I was charged with guiding tours around the Mundelein Center for the Fine and Performing Arts during Open House Chicago, where people could freely wander the halls and learn about various architectural achievements throughout the city.  It wasn’t until the morning of this week’s session at Pritzker that I realized Open House Chicago was back, and with the number of people waiting to get in at the bottom of the Monroe Building, I knew I was back in the middle of it all again.

Luckily this time, tour guides were provided, so I was able to continue work on the Discovery Pages for the PML website.  As people would wander up through the third floor’s main stacks, my job was to give brief directions around the 3rd floor, including the “She’s a WOW: Women’s Service Organizations in WWII” exhibit at the end of the hall, and open the door to the main stacks with a button located under my desk.  That was the best part by far.

Once again, I was able to put the finishing touches on the research of my second topic, Trench Warfare in WWI, and begin looking into my next topic, the French Indochina War of 1946-1954.  Even though the only task I had left for the Trench Warfare page was to organize the summary, it was by far the longest piece of the process.  Even for a topic that specific, there is so much information, and so many different pieces in play that it seems like it’s all relevant, and omitting anything would be a disservice.  However, remembering the fact that A. The summary isn’t a college essay, and B. It is supposed to serve as a jumping-off point for patrons to investigate the library’s holdings, it made finishing that page easier.  The research being conducted here lets me build my base of knowledge, and pique people’s interest enough that they want to explore as much as I did.

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After spending some time working on continuing to bolster my LinkedIn profile, I set to work again on my research for my Trench Warfare Discovery Page while at the Pritzker Military Library, now in the 7th week of my internship.

A benefit of sitting at the circulation desk is getting a chance to see PML members come in and have their own time with the holdings and displays.  Many come in to simply take a gander at the library, possibly look at the “She’s a WOW” WWII Women’s Service Organization exhibit, or the Veterans Information Center in the main stacks on the 2nd floor.  Some are doing research, either for school topics or personal interest.  Today, however, I got to see someone who showed nothing but a simple excitement about military history.  A young boy of no more than 8 came in with his father to view the stacks.  It was plain to see he was a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of books in the stacks; after looking at posters like “Death on Subs!”, he was asked by his father what subjects he wanted to look at.  He immediately answered “Central Pacific,” in reference to the theatre of battle in World War II.

I’ll be the first to admit that even though I knew about World War II at that age, I had no idea about it’s separate theatres, much less expressing a desire to read library books about them.  After moving through that topic, the boy approached Andy, another intern at the circulation desk, where he could find some books on the Cold War.  The Cold War.  Needless to say I was blown away.  Though he turned down a thick novel on the conflict, he did reassure his father that he knew the Cold War entailed a lot more spying than fighting.  Andy helped him the whole way, and after handing him a book on nuclear bombs, the boy walked away with a huge smile on his face.

There were a lot of reasons I decided to intern with the Pritzker Military Library this semester.  Getting a wider base of historical knowledge, experiencing a professional historical setting, fostering my research skills, to name a few.  It took till today to get a first hand account of how this internship could directly apply to my future teaching career.  By teaching history, I can not only interact with others who share a boundless desire to learn, but I can work to foster that in others.  Though I never directly talked with the child who came in today, his exuberance has redoubled my efforts to learn as much as possible in my time here.  Moreover, it helped me know that although the field of teaching may be tough, getting to pass on the passion of history makes it all worth it.

 

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(The Berlin Wall during the Cold War: not the history would’ve looked at when I was 8, but who am I to judge?)

 

This Saturday’s time at Pritzker seemed to be full of everything BUT history.  Which, oddly enough, was exactly what I needed.  

At the beginning of my time, I was asked to come in and talk with my intern head, Christy Stanford about my LinkedIn profile I created a few weeks back.  She talked me through the process of giving it a much needed overhaul, adding content in everything from my profile to personal information, to adding pictures and gave talks about posting frequently.  She summed it up perfectly by saying “sites like Facebook are easy.  LinkedIn takes work.”  And necessary work at that.  When I spend most of my days pouring over information and finding books in Pritzker’s endless collection, it’s tough to remember that it is a professional setting, and as such, I need to maintain that image.  It means more than wearing a tie everyday to work, it includes making sure everything I put up for people to see online and in person represents who I am and is emblematic of my body of work.  

The other thought that popped into my head while working to foster my online image was my future in academia.  Despite what my picture below shows, being hard at work staring at a computer screen, succeeding in this field requires a little human contact (no matter how strange that may be for a history major).  I’m spending time at Loyola building connections with professors, attending extra seminars, and constantly trying to find ways to bolster not only my knowledge base, but my “LinkedIn Image,” if you will.  Everything I do within the field of history all works towards the end goal of my career and success as a teacher/historian, so the more I do (without overworking myself) can only help.  Logic!

Regardless, since last Saturday I’ve been posting a few select articles on my profile and trying to find more workmates/professors/classmates to connect with.  Because you know what they say: “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”  But what’s more relevant to this discussion is “sooner rather than later,” because in two years time there won’t be a later to build my online resume.Image

(Author’s Note: This post concerns my time at Pritzker on 9/28.  Following that day, I began dealing with a cold that lingered up until the end of the week).  

This Saturday’s internship session at Pritzker was one entirely devoted to research.  Not only was I able to finish compiling all the information for my first Discovery Page on the Merchant Marines of WWII, but I also set through the arduous process of finding materials to support my research on the Trench Warfare of WWI.  

The more time I’ve spent at Pritzker doing research, the more I’m finding a value in recorded history coinciding with personal recounts and memoirs, as opposed to simply books on a shelf.  I fully expected my time here to consist almost exclusively of dense, information-laden texts where I would memorize and absorb as much as possible.  Yet in the never-ending quest to find decent, reputable online sources, I came across a Library of Congress collection of memoirs from WWI front-line soldiers.  One of particular interest was John Joesph Brennan, a specialist in the 102nd Engineer Train from New York.  What is immediately striking is the message that precedes his day-by-day account of his war experience.  A simple paragraph, with his signature underneath it from 1982, simply reads:

“This is not the diary of a hero, but the diary, of one of the many men who enlisted in the army, to serve his country, and accept and carry out what ever job he was assigned to do.”

Up until that point, many personal account stories I’ve found tried to employ as much emotionally charged language as possible, to try to capture the brutality of life in the muddy trenches.  Yet a soldier who spent time in the front, with shells bursting around him, simply chalks it up to his duty.  Before travelling overseas, he describes his time spent in New York in uniform on page 6 as “exciting.”  Mr. Brennan mentioned how people were very nice to him, and gave his men candy.

This dry, seemingly emotionless account of the war is equal parts fascinating and shocking to me.  As it progresses, beginning on page 80, a series of entries from September 7 – 20 all talk of constant rain, sleeping in, reviewing maneuvers, and “no detail,” in various iterations.  Only when he is in the heart of battle, describing German artillery falling around him, does his writing bridge on literary.  I’ve always considered memoirs to be ways to fully capture that experience, to vividly describe every detail of the soldiers mind in the worst of human interactions.  Yet this perfectly captures an element of trench warfare people seem to forget: the downtime.  Only a fraction of soldier’s time, in around 10-15%, was spent fighting on the front lines.  Everything else was varying degrees of preparation, repairs, and waiting.  Mr. Brennan’s memoir is a perfect representation of not only the stagnation of the warring countries, but of the soldiers as well.Image 

It’s amazing just how fast people’s long term plans can change, depending on what they hear.  I was dead-set on learning to become a comedian, then a famous musician, then applying for the NFL Draft, all within the span of one week of 4th grade.  My experience at Pritzker this week taught me that very important lesson: that you never know till you learn.

Currently I am studying to become a Secondary Education teacher in history, but when this year rolled around I was considering teaching at a collegiate level, should an opportunity present itself.  However, through talking with my professors and seeing how their academic lives differ from my experiences with high school teachers, I now consider becoming a professor to be my top career goal.  Such focus on one topic in history and getting to do extensive research and writing on it seems very appealing, and for me teaching wouldn’t come as an add-on to the profession.  Yet while working on my discovery pages at Pritzker I found out the intern I share a workspace with, Andrew Bourgeois, was a graduate of Loyola University’s History Department from 8 years ago.  He gave me a great overview of which professors were good, which I should avoid (not many), and which classes would be worth my time.  But more importantly, he gave me a first-hand look at what a historical graduate program would look like.  Andrew mentioned a lot of discourse, a lot of jargon, and a lot of academia.  I don’t believe he mentioned these things to discourage me from entering into such a study, it was simply a “warning” of sorts, that this would be the environment you’d be spending your time in, and like all professions, it has its ups and downs.  When it comes to a person’s career, you can’t go in blind.  The input I received from my professors was important, as was the glimpse Andrew provided me.  But in the end I’ll have to decide what I value the most, and until then, learn as much as I can.

Speaking of learning, in my last Pritzker session I recently started preliminary research into my next topic, trench warfare featured during WWI.  All I’ve known of trench warfare was from my history class last year dealing exclusively with WWI (taught by Professor Thomas Knapp), and even then our intro to this style of fighting was very basic.  Digging into areas to provide defensive cover has always been a part of warfare, but it has been interspersed with mobile warfare and weaponry that benefited from such tactics.  World War I’s tactics were about an imbalance between technology and tactics; they had access to machine guns, mortar shells, massive artillery capabilities, and late into the conflict, tanks.  Contrasting this was battle tactics.  The phrase “over the top” was made famous because generals and squad leaders would send waves and waves of troops over the artillery-shelled wasteland of “no man’s land,” straight into more shells, machine gun fire, and near-certain death.  Even flanking maneuvers were cut off by the opposing side, endlessly stretching trench lines so far as the coasts (the most famous example being the “race to the sea,” in which German and British forces extended their lines to the North Sea).  However, I had learned all of this before in class, so it was not a huge surprise.

What was, however, was information I found on trench raids.  To add a touch of mobility to the endless waves of troop advancements, under the cover of night many small squad groups would sneak across No Man’s Land, and with a plethora of melee weapons and close-combat guns (such as hunting shotguns converted for military use), they would cause as much havoc as possible.  This, while adding a new wrinkle to the stagnation of trench warfare, only enhances its brutality.  By looking at some of the weapons, like the picture below of a “knuckle duster,” which has a triangular blade for the express purpose of doing as much damage as possible, it’s plain to see these men fought to discourage the enemy.  And with conditions as deplorable as many were, with 90% of people who sustained a torso injury dying due mainly to infection, it’s easy to see not only how advanced their weaponry was, but how unprepared they were to use it.Image

 

Even though technically I’m in college, studying to be a history teacher and interning at such a well-respected organization as the Pritzker Military Library, it still doesn’t feel like it.  With my birthday and Christmas rolling up (yes it’s still that preemptive in my head), all I can think of is if I can finally find some “Mobile Suit: Gundam Wing” action figures.

As such, my third session interning at the P.M.L. was an eye-opener of sorts that set me down the right path of reaching “adulthood.”  Now that I had a general idea of how my time would be spent, I tried to start right away on the Discovery Pages project with the Merchant Marines.  However, I also connected with Christy Stanford, the Volunteer Coordinator at Pritzker.  She informed me that many people in the library used an online service called “Linkedin,” a sort of social networking for employment and careers.  People can create profiles, list their education, past jobs, and more importantly their skills and services, and have others endorse those skills and write recommendations.  Ms. Stanford told me this was an incredibly useful service, and that I should work to network with all my professors, and at least five fellow classmates, because those connections and endorsements are invaluable in the hiring process.

I always knew the phrase “it’s now always about what you know, it’s about who you know” was more true than false.  Yet I had no idea such a service existed to streamline the process.  Even though I was told to link up with other members of the P.M.L. first, the first person that accepted a request was my history professor from Loyola, Prof. Karamanski.  From then on I knew signing up for this would not only help in the future, but it reminded me that these are things I should be worrying about.  

In my search for more information on the Merchant Marines, I ran into arguably my first research roadblock.  Since the internet is such a valuable tool, the Pritzker Military Library Discovery Pages want to list 6-10 websites (from .org, .gov, .edu type sources, preferably) where patrons can find more info on a subject.  As I came to realize, with a topic as seemingly specific as the Merchant Marines of WWII, there aren’t many websites in the seemingly infinite number of internet sources that deal with that topic.  It took a lot of searching, but I was able to uncover a lot of valuable sources, including a few oral historical recounts of people’s time in the Merchant Marines.  The whole process brought me back to the info on their veterans’ status post-WWII, and how it was systematically denied to many Merchant Mariners.  Even now in an age of endless sources of information, some still eludes us because of past actions.  Not every insignificant detail should be preserved to the ends of the Earth, because not many people care about a candy bar wrapper eaten by Jimmy Carter.  But such important pieces of history deserve to be preserved, and for that reason I enjoy my time with the Pritzker Military Library even more.  They work tirelessly to preserve history that has a direct effect on us.Image

 

 

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(Pictured above: CAM Ship, or “catapult aircraft merchant ships,” which would accompany merchant marines on convoy trips and when faced with danger, launch a single-man attack plane in the air to provide assistance.  However, with no landing strip other than the ocean, an extremely dangerous job for the pilot was made nearly impossible).

Every time I have to write an essay or do historical readings for a class, I put in a pair of earplugs.  Where I normally used them to just dampen sound at various rock concerts I attended, now they are as essential a study tool as Microsoft Word. In that sense, doing work for the Prizker Military Library, where everyone is committed to the silence of diligent work, it is like a historical research paradise.  No distracting TV or music from roommates computers, no loud discussions on “classwork” at our school’s Information Commons, just pure, focused silence.

My second day at Pritzker began with the knowledge I would start in on my original goal; to compile summaries and relevant library documents on various topics for the Pritzker Website, filed under “Discovery Pages.”  This way, people viewing the website can narrow down their search better than a few keywords.  My first topic was of Merchant Marines, or mariners who acted under the U.S. flag for commerce in peacetime, but for the Navy during wartime.  Since their true realization as a group and largest field of action was during WWII, I chose to focus my research on that time period.

What I found, not surprisingly, was a very underrepresented,  but vital, segment of the Armed Forces.  After being formally organized by Pres. Roosevelt in 1936, their mission of recommissioning and renovating trade ships from the first World War quickly changed with the onset of the second World War.  They began churning out thousands of ships, used for troop transport, supply delivery, and everything in between.  The Merchant Marines were present at every major invasion of World War II.  As such, they faced extreme danger, and not always purely because of the Germans.  When ships left the U.S. in the early years of the war, they were provided with no defensive guards, and the coastal city lights made their outline visible out far enough for German U-Boats to quickly size them up.  Some reports tell of people on the Eastern Seaboard witnessing naval battles of Merchant Marines and German U-Boats.

This danger, multiplied infinitely by Germans constantly roaming the North Atlantic, made them the military branch with the highest casualty rate, nearly 1 in 24.  To me, that blatant disregard for their safety by their own government was astonishing.  Even a movie based on the Merchant Marines, 1943’s “Action in the North Atlantic” starring Humphrey Bogart, has the main crew’s ship sink right from the get-go of the movie, and their second vessel nearly sink after making it all the way to Russia.  And if that wasn’t enough, the mariners were denied any sort of veteran status by the U.S. for their extreme bravery.  To me, this is the value of such historical research: not only learning about segments not popularized in class textbooks, but by doing so learning of such travesties.  In that, as always with history, we can begin to learn.

My research couldn’t have been done without, again, help from another great Pritzker intern.  Andy, who works at the main stacks reception desk, gave me a crash course in the Library of Congress organization system, something no poster on other library bookshelves could’ve done.  After a brief (but personally intense) test over how to re-shelve books, I felt ready to go.  Now that I’ve gotten into the nitty gritty of my research, the noise back on campus seems deafening, where the silence that the Pritzker Military Library provides is well-worth it.